Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Sarah, the first mother and matriarch of Israel, commanded the attention of nineteenth-century Christian and Jewish women. Women writers used Sarah's story, which centered on the home and the family, as a springboard for discussing issues that related to them as women. Christian interpreters eulogized her as a model of submission. However, not all interpreted Sarah's submission in the same way: some women used the story of Sarah to preach the message of wifely submission, some nuanced the meaning of submission, and still others redefined it or even ignored it. The meaning of submission in marriage was clearly an issue of considerable debate in the nineteenth century. Even the aristocratic Frances King was careful to include a strategy of "considered" submission which encouraged women to refuse to follow immoral directives. Harriet Beecher Stowe's close narrative reading of the Genesis story took some of the sting from wifely submission. Hers is a revisionist approach to submission.

Christian women who used the New Testament as an interpretive lens also eulogized Sarah as a model of faith, basing their approach on Hebrews 11. Since the Genesis story presented Sarah as anything but faithful, interpreters had to struggle with the issues of polygamy, Sarah's lying, her hard treatment of Hagar, and her disappearance from the story. They invoked various strategies to deal with these and other interpretive issues. Some used the notion of evolutionary development, judging customs and behaviour as "primitive." Others stressed differences in culture and customs. Many faced the moral difficulties of Sarah and accepted her humanity. They reasoned if God accepted Sarah, God could accept them: they shared with Sarah a common humanity. In spite of all the issues that distanced readers from Sarah and her world, many women elevated her.

Jewish women faced similar interpretive challenges. Like Christians, Jews inherited a tradition that elevated Sarah as their matriarch. Aguilar and Hyneman both wanted to continue to exalt Sarah and present her as an example for contemporary Jewish readers. To do this, they recast or omitted negative scenes involving Sarah.

Nineteenth-century women often fashioned Sarah in their own image. The experiences of women of station and wealth, like King, provided a distinctive lens for reading Sarah's story. King's personal wealth made her sensitive to

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